July 20, 2009 by Mel Weiss
Sometimes, Israeli politics and U.S. politics can seem very far apart, very separate, very disconnected. And then there are months like this one.
As the question of settlement expansion in the West Bank gets hotter and hotter, the question of what President Obama will, can and should do is burnin’ up as well. Furthermore, it seems to have suddenly come to the attention of many Jewish communal leaders that not everyone shares their stance on settlement expansion (and, more systemically, how the U.S. should engage with Israel). Depending on whose figures you trust, it sounds like that coveted youth demographic stands largely to the left of the line.
The exact nature of this back-and-forth is sometimes obscured; basically, the idea being pushed by Obama and his Jewish supporters both in the U.S. and in Israel is that settlement expansion in the West Bank needs to be curtailed. The settlements, of highly dubious legality, ought not be allowed to grow, including via “natural growth,” which is a made-up term with all the scientific accuracy of “partial-birth abortion.” The thinking behind this line of argument is that the ideal end to The Situation is a two-state solution; part-to-all of the Palestinian state will be made up of the West Bank; it may be way too late to remove settlements there, but it will be easier to work through the excruciating minutiae of redrawing the maps—as well as convincing everyone to approach the table seriously—if those settlements stop growing. As in, right now.
The opposition to this idea, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and agreed to by many Jewish American organizations, including AIPAC, is that “natural growth” is a legitimate right of Israeli settlers. (Sometimes, to be fair, the argument has been that Netanyahu can’t keep his coalition together without ceding that right.) The Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled that the government’s right to set policy in the settlements overrides the rights of settlers there, and, in general, governments are usually granted land-use rights superceding those of individual citizens. (In the U.S., a verison this right is known, and occasionally abused, as eminent domain. There’s also the concept of zoning laws, which is underpinned by the same principle.)
If the issue is totally confusing to you, well, maybe that’s because it’s meant to be. Obama’s firmer stance is seen as indicative of some loss of support for Israel, and it’s got at least one segment of American Jews worried. Of course, that may be because the rise of an alternative stance threatens their political hegemony.
Obama, meanwhile, keeps trying to remind the Jewish world that he’s working on striking a very difficult balance in making progress with both sides, though informal reports indicate that he looks good doing it.
And, in other news, the politician described as “Israel’s Sarah Palin” is getting her moment in the spotlight. There are some great—I mean, awful—“But can she see Russia from her house?” jokes that I won’t make. I do suppose that it’s a sign of some kind of progress to have women on all sides of an issue. Tzipi Livni received such a large amount of media attention before the election; it’s of course only right and expected that other female politicians receive their due as well. It’s great to see that women can lead on the political left and the political right; that doesn’t require any women do automatically conclude that either is correct.